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Hamlet’s Last Laugh

15 Apr

But I do prophesy th’ election lights
On Fortinbras; he has my dying voice. (Hamlet 5.2.392-3)

For centuries people have wondered why Hamlet would spend his dying breaths and words on an aggressive lout like Fortinbras of Norway whose “sharked up” band of “lawless resolutes” arrives at Elsinore just in time to receive the kingdom for which he might otherwise have battled. This is not the first time Shakespeare juxtaposes the two young men and has Hamlet give way to the thug with whom he compares himself adversely. The first was when Hamlet, on his way to England encounters the Norwegian army on its way to fight the Polish for “a little patch of ground” so poor that “five ducats” would be too great a rent to pay to farm it (4.4.19-20). Yet twenty thousand lives will be lost fighting for a plot “not large enough to hide the slain.” Continue reading


Examining Terms of Art that Idealize Statism and Suppress Generativity…

31 Jan

[This is an excerpt of a longer essay]

Come, come and sit you down; you shall not budge,
You go not till I set you up a glass
Where you may see the inmost part of you… (Hamlet 3.4.23-5)

“The unity of the manipulated collective consists in the negation of each individual and the scorn poured on societies that could make people into individuals.” If academia is to retain its integrity and humanity it must disengage from “the powers that manipulate the collective as an agent of violence” against what is coherent, distinct and non-generic. In the postmodern age, the substance of discourse, language is subject to maximal control. When “nothing can appear [or be discussed] that does not bear in advance the trace of [the] jargon” [1] of the dominant tendency, our efforts and hopes as humanists and educators are done and we enter the stage the follows history and humanity. Continue reading

Thoughts on Beethoven’s 9th Symphony and Cultural Crisis

19 Jan

Mozart’s music was the full ripeness of a Western form developed from otherworldly imaginings and dance, a remarkable fusion mellowing for a millennium. The strains and dynamism in the mystique of abstraction, the corporate fiction and imago whose emerging era of dominion was noted by Joachim de Flores (1145-1202) in the period of Western consolidation, are resolved in a synthesis of courtly high manners derived from a rural-peasant-agricultural base of dance and seasonal rhythms. The poise of this synthesis recalls Nietzsche’s writings on the “physiological basis of aesthetics” and his critique of Wagner for destroying the lyrical and bodily bases of Western music and reducing it to a cult of poses. The cult of the pose now dominates in postmodern logos and the digital ‘quick takes’ of ‘freeze frame’ screen portraits and teasers. We have devolved from dance to rigidity. Digital icons pervade postmodern society from pro-sport, sit-com and news ‘personality – intros’ to advertisements for car insurance. Wagner’s cult of the pose, of frozen emotion presented for rapture is idol worship which is postmodernism’s expressive-petrifactive mode: it is a worship of congealed power unleashed in electric spectaculars that dwarf what is human. The culture of digital poses negates expression just as the modernist ‘day’ that followed the Romantic twilight negated Romanticism and the classicism from whose ripeness it emerged. Similarly, postmodern technically synthesized persona negate character and digital ‘news’ negates history. This is a dying era of imposture, power-games and sterility. The ripeness of 1790 is now rotten, its superficial vitalism an electronic deceit. It is an era in which lying has become a universal principle (Kafka) and fiat the medium of all discourse, relations and valuations. Continue reading

Control & Dearth in Language & Society: Terror’s Terms of Art

14 Jan

[This is an excerpt, omitting footnotes, from a paper written for a Conference in Europe]

This paper’s prefatory remarks exceed its body for the core of our crisis is language.

My primary concern in researching and discussing socio-economic, financial and geopolitical issues is with protecting human beings from the drive to centralize, manage, control and measure every aspect of life and relationships. We live in an age of Statism; of sanctimonious glorification of the compassion of this new idol that “tells lies in all the tongues of good and evil…for whatever it says it lies and whatever it has it has stolen.” I realize that this perspective counters the impulse of the postmodern academy which in the past century at least has “voluntarily left behind its critical element to become a mere instrumentality in serving the existing order.” While this “tireless self-destruction of enlightenment” is rooted in the formation and identity of the West it has reached its apocalyptic and elegiac stages since the Symbolist – Victorian period. Not coincidentally, that quarter century that witnessed the birth of the modern, “this strange disease of modern life,” generated complementary apocalyptic epics on the collapse of the realm “back into the beast” (Idylls of the King); it is hardly extenuating that one of them, Wagner’s Ring cycle exalted a coming “Age of Aquarius” that already was flowering in the regressions of theosophy and early Symbolist visual arts. Continue reading

Landscape: the Elements, Time and the Human Element

9 Jan

(This is a proposal I’ve written to Curate a Visual Arts Show in Various Media)

Landscape is a genre that celebrates the world that is part of us, partly beyond us and the context for our feelings about nature, place and life. It also speaks of time: in the aging of trees, stone, the movement of clouds, changes in daylight and phases of the moon. Landscape also is a site for  perceiving and experiencing the vital development, works and passage of human lives over seasons, generations and centuries.

This show highlights landscapes that attend to the elements of nature, the impulses and works of human nature and the marking and passage of time. It is open to painting, photography and mixed media works on paper.

Reading Fluidities of Self and Being

19 Dec

For Wallace Stevens, reading is the core activity and metaphor for the fluidity of self. Being and perception constitute each other in “an unremitting interchange with the clear universe of things”[1] in the quiet of night, calm and often sombre. This is the essential liminal moment and site, the juncture by which Stevens examines the metaphoric nature of perception and the permeability of being and becoming. His greatest poems are meditations on the expansive subjectivity of reading. That is, they are meta-figures for his encounter with each of his readers forever and for everyone’s encounter through perception and figuration with life. Reading is for him a metaphoric gateway to eternity and the medium for all complementarities, like individual and community to merge. In this way his works are an extended meditation on and elaboration of the issues examined by Shelley’s meditations on being, metaphor and flux in “Mont Blanc” noted above. Continue reading

Elegant Purity and Essential Imperfection

28 Nov

Clear water in a brilliant bowl,
Pink and white carnations… one desires
So much more than that.”

One of the great poems of the 20th century, “Poems of Our Climate” [1] makes several trenchant comments on the contradictory aspect of humanity, — at least in cultures of aesthetics like the West. Among its most striking features is its painterliness. This recurrent aspect of his work may be taken as a sign of Stevens’ ‘imagism’ but this term begs the point of his deeper concerns with the nature of perception and the ability of the senses, mediated by language to depict and grasp “the thing itself,” the essence and being of an object, activity, character or experience. Continue reading